“The Mistake is coming to stay for a while.” Rebecca Harris announces to her husband Peter. Rebecca's 23-year-old brother, Ethan, known as Mizzy (short for "The Mistake" as he was born many years after his three older sisters), is dropping in to see his sister in New York. Yale drop out, possible boy genius, and a recovering drug addict, Mizzy is a gorgeous screw up who frequently is bailed out by one of his three sisters.
|The character of Tadzio in Death in Venice|
You love your wife for many reasons, among them her resemblance (which you exaggerate in your own mind) to the unattainable girl of your adolescence, who preferred your older brother and you (fuck you) love her ever so slightly less now that she's not that girl any longer. You're drawn (erotically?) to her little brother because on one hand he reminds you of Matthew, and on the other, allows you for the first time in your life to be Matthew.
When Peter becomes aware that Mizzy is still using and having drugs delivered to Peter and Rebecca's home he is conflicted but still protective of Mizzy (and aroused by him). Mizzy begs him not to tell Rebecca as it will inevitably lead to Mizzy being sent back to rehab.
The idea dazzles Peter. A whole new imagined vista opens up for Peter, images of a life with a young lover in an exotic location, even if temporary, excites him until Mizzy decides to leave unexpectedly and Peter's brief, erotically fueled dream shatters. In a parting shot, Mizzy threatens to tell Rebecca about what has transpired between them if Peter reveals the fact that Mizzy is still using. Peter must make a decision about what to tell Rebecca and what to do about his marriage.
Cunningham has some sharp-eyed observations about the value and meaning of art, the commodification of art, the art market and the art consumer in New York.
Although I am unsure of how this fits in with the novel, Cunningham honestly documents Peter's troubled relationship with his twenty-something daughter Beatrice who, it is hinted, also might be gay, living in Boston with an older woman, tending bar and holding grudges against her supposedly career-obsessed father for near forgotten minor transgressions.
Will I sound homophobic (or merely dim-witted?) when I say that although Cunningham is gay he writes about heterosexual desire and sex very well. I will a bit. He's simply a very good writer and is able to inhabit different personae with ease and grace. Punto e basta.